5 Ways to Stop Self-Destructive Behaviors

Especially for people in recovery, making healthy choices and curbing self-destructive behaviors are critical for long-term success. Breaking bad habits is challenging, but these tips can help you stop unhealthy behaviors before they lead to a lapse or relapse.

1. Break the cycle of shame.

Shame is a negative feeling directed at yourself, such as saying, "I'm a bad person" instead of "I did a bad thing." Shame often drives self-destructive behaviors in an attempt to ease that pain. Engaging in those behaviors perpetuates the shame and leads to more self-destructive behaviors. This can be a difficult cycle to break.

Start by replacing little harmful behaviors with those that are healthy and which foster pride, the antithesis of shame. For example, instead of telling a white lie, tell the truth. Take responsibility for your little messes, and make positive lifestyle choices that promote good physical and mental health. Improving your self-image will help you let go of the shame, and you'll be less likely to want to engage in the behaviors that bring it back.

2. Don't believe the negative self-talk.

It's not easy to break a self-destructive habit, and negative self-talk only makes it harder. Telling yourself that you're weak or stupid is not only destructive in itself, but it's also not true. Identifying and changing harmful ways of thinking can go a long way toward curbing self-destructive ways of behaving.

Next time you have a negative thought about yourself, stop, think and re-phrase it in a more positive way. For example, instead of saying, "I'm weak," say, "I feel weak right now, but I know I can do this."

3. Get support.

The power of support from friends, family and peers can't be underestimated. If you're trying to break a bad habit, encouragement and input from others is invaluable. Tell a supportive friend, family member, or support group member what behaviors you're trying to change. Ask them for encouragement and help with holding yourself accountable. Supportive friends and loved ones can empower you, cheer you on, and offer wisdom when you're having a hard time.

4. Use failure to learn.

You probably won't be able to change all of your self-destructive behaviors overnight, but you can use your failures to learn better ways of curbing them next time. Think about what made you choose to engage in a self-destructive behavior against your better judgment, then think about ways to circumnavigate that roadblock next time.

The attitude with which you meet a failure helps to determine the ultimate outcome. For example, if you use drugs or alcohol once you're in recovery and you beat yourself up about it and engage in negative self-talk, you're more likely to experience a full-blown relapse than if you assess the situation, learn what you can from it to help you better cope next time, forgive yourself and move on.

5. Prepare ahead of time.

Becoming aware of what triggers unhealthy habits can help you forestall engaging in them. For instance, if you're trying to quit smoking, plan ahead for situations that make you want to smoke and work out a strategy to cope with the discomfort. Once you're in the tricky situation, stay mindful of your thoughts, feelings and attitudes and try out your coping strategy. If it fails, use your failure to learn what you might do differently next time.

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